Laphroaig is a single malt Scotch whisky from the Islay region of Scotland. Islay single malts are known all over the world for their unique strongly peated whiskies with a unique ‘maritime’ character. Although there are a few distilleries on the Isle of Islay that produce unpeated single malts, the identity of the region remains tethered to their most defining trait.
While most Islay whiskies are peated, they can range from moderately peated to the truly smoky monsters such as Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin. Whiskies from Islay have been known to be extremely divisive in the community of whisky lovers, wherein some prefer the more pleasant Speyside and Highland flavour profile, whereas some cherish the strong, peated, briney character of Islay whiskies.
Laphroaig was established by two brothers, Donald and Alexander Johnston in 1815 on the South Coast of the Isle of Islay. Donald eventually bought out his brother, Alexander’s share in the distillery but things did not work out for him too well. Donald died tragically in an accident at the distillery, leaving the distillery to his son Dugald, who was still too young.
The distillery was run by caretakers for a few years until Dugald assumed control of the distillery in 1857. A long history of tussles with the neighbouring Lagavulin distillery owners, Mackie & Co. ensued for many years after Dugald’s death. The distillery’s ownership fell to Ian Hunter, a relative of the Johnstons. Hunter had no next of kin, and upon his demise, Bessie Williamson, the first female distillery manager in Scotland took over the Laphroaig distillery.
Until then, Laphroaig had survived many sabotaging attempts by Lagavulin owners, Mackie & Co. who even poached the head brewer from Laphroaig, building an exact copy of Laphroaig’s stills. When Bessie Williamson took control of the distillery, she had a new challenge to overcome, guiding the distillery to success after the Second World War. She did so by aiming to popularize Laphroaig overseas, and thus laid the foundations of Laphroaig’s many years of success that followed.
Laphroaig turned 200 years old in 2015, making it one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. The Laphroaig brand became part of the Beam Suntory brand portfolio in 2014, when Suntory merged with Beam Inc. to form Beam Suntory.
This is a superb new introduction to the Laphroaig core range, and has replaced the 10 Year Old as the standard, entry-level bottling for the brand. The name might be slightly ambiguous and gimmicky, but there is a good reason Laphroaig have named it ‘Select’. This no-age-statement single malt is a combination of many Laphroaig single malts such as the Quarter Cask, 10 Year Old and Laphroaig’s single malts finished in Pedro Ximenez and Triple Wood Oloroso Sherry casks. Now if you are thinking that this makes it a blend, it would be a good time to highlight that single malt only means whisky distilled, matured and bottled at the same distillery.
So the blend of many different styles of Laphroaig, ‘selected’ carefully by the Master Distiller are married to create a whole new type of Laphroaig. Of course the peat and medicinal personality still prevails, but there are also many more facets are added to the whisky through the PX and Sherry finished spirit. One the nose, the full-bodied Laphroaig Select produces wafts of peat mixed with dried fruits and traces of spice. The palate is quite brilliant as the sweetness and smoke create something extraordinary, followed by the touch of burnt charcoal towards the end. The finish is quite smooth and long, with pleasant floral notes. The Select can really be viewed as a softer Laphroaig that can tempt beginners and first-timers to go for the more traditional Laphroaigs from the range. A really smart move by Laphroaig, and has the potential to pay off rich dividends.
This is THE Laphroaig as far as most people know, and has been their standard expression for a very long time before it was replaced with the Laphroaig Select. The Laphroaig 10 Year Old is the embodiment of everything associated with the Laphroaig brand, and many even consider it a rite of passage into appreciating Islay whiskies. If the Laphroaig 10 can be described in the shortest sentence, we could call it a single malt Scotch unlike any other from the Scottish mainland. There is a lot going on with this single malt, whether it’s the heavily peated malt barley used for the mash, or the 10 years of maturation exposed to the salty, unforgiving sea air.
All of these characteristics play a huge role in determining the Islay style of single malts which are often iodine rich, medicinal and quite salty in addition to the peat. The Laphroaig 10 is very intensely smoky, with lots of iodine and spice completing a very strongly presented nose. On the palate, you will be surprised to taste a combination of sweet vanilla and salty seaweed, pungent phenols and citrus oil. This single malt is smoky all over, and the drying finish is no exception.
The Laphroaig Quarter Cask is a no-age-statement single malt Scotch whisky released in 2004. The expression gets its name from the casks used to mature the spirit, which are quite smaller than the regular casks used by distilleries to mature their spirit. These ‘quarter casks’ only hold around 50 litres, and this ensures more contact between the wood and the spirit. The curiously young age of the whisky alarms a lot of people, but the type of cask used ensures a sped up maturation process
Laphroaig do not assign an age-statement to the Quarter Cask expression. Although they do divulge that the whisky is aged somewhere between five to six years in total. The whisky only spends a few months in the quarter casks, and has been matured in traditional barrels for the rest of the years. The increased contact with the wood does a lot of good to this single malt, adding a new layer of aromas to the otherwise dominant peat. There is soft butterscotch and spice accompanying the strong peat and smell of burnt tobacco. The palate is very complex and peaty with some sweet and spicy flavours, and the finish is long, sweet and smoky. Laphroaig have done well to revive a lost tradition, and should try using the Quarter Casks some more as it remains an untapped source of innovation today.
The Laphroaig Triple Wood is a no-age-statement single malt Scotch whisky from the phenomenal Islay distillery of Laphroaig. As the name suggests, the Triple Wood expression has been matured in three different type of barrels, and was released only as part of their Global Travel Retail range. Eventually giving in to demands from Laphroaig loyalists who became enamoured with this release, Laphroaig added the Triple Wood to their core range for a limited time period.
Now to describe it in more simpler terms, the Laphroaig Triple Wood is very much the Laphroaig Quarter Cask release, spending a few years in ex-Bourbon American Oak barrels, and then being transferred to smaller, quarter casks for a sped up maturation process. The Triple Wood undergoes a third maturation process where it is transferred to large Oloroso Sherry barrels for a few months. This helps the whisky absorb an entirely new dimension of flavours and aromas, creating something truly delightful. The conflation of Laphroaig’s heavily peated, maritime single malt with the rich Sherry influence creates something refreshing for Laphroaig lovers. The sweet aromas of dried fruits, warm spice mix well with burnt charcoal ash and intense smoke. Flavours of smoke, sweetness and spice are followed by soft vanilla and sea salt, and the finish is long, rich and thick.
The most expensive Laphroaig currently part of their core range, the Laphroaig Lore is not a super-premium Islay single malt, but it is not less than any either. A lot of labour has been poured into this no-age-statement expression, with a lot of different techniques and barrels being put to good use. The Laphroaig Lore also received some love from Jim Murray in 2019 when he named it the best no-age-statement Scotch whisky.
Laphroaig created the Lore by combining five small-batch spirits matured in five different types of barrels respectively. All the spirits have a different age-statement, bringing something unique to the table, and the combination of which makes this expression really interesting. There are Sherry barrels, the now often-used quarter casks that Laphroaig is bringing back and some more carefully selected barrels at the distillery’s disposal. Released in 2016, the Laphroaig Lore quickly became a renowned Laphroaig release due to its full-bodied, rich flavour profile with an intense sweet and smoky nose, resembling that of burnt pudding and some sea salt mixed with butterscotch. The palate is a wonderful combination of sea-salt flavoured sweet chocolate, with more smoke and creamy toffee flavours, followed by a dry, short finish with a sweet aftertaste. Excellent stuff from Laphroaig but for a price slightly too steep. Worth sampling for sure!